Indoors vs Outdoors: Is Indoor Cycling As Effective As Outdoor Cycling?

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By Robbie Ferri CPT

CPT & Indoor Cycling Instructor

Here at Girl Bike Love, we get some amazing questions. One that always seems to come up in our inbox is “Is Indoor Cycling As Effective As Outdoor Cycling?” This is an excellent question that takes a little more than a one-word answer.

Although indoor and outdoor cycling are very similar, they differ in many ways, and both come with advantages and disadvantages. So, for the same workout indoors and outdoors, you can achieve different training results.

In this article, we will be answering this question for you and discussing everything you need to know regarding indoor and outdoor training. We will be discussing:

  • The Short Answer
  • Indoor Cycling Explained
  • Outdoor Cycling Explained
  • Indoor Vs Outdoor Cycling
  • Is Indoor Cycling As Effective As Outdoor Cycling?
  • Which Is For You?

The Short Answer

Indoor cycling is just as effective as outdoor cycling. It’s important to understand that they are both very different. You can gain certain benefits indoors, which you can’t get outdoors, and vice versa. In this article, we will explain this further and in more detail. 

Be sure to check out my YouTube video that covers everything you need to know! I made sure it’s super easy to understand and follow along with.

Indoor Cycling Explained

Indoor cycling is typically done on either a turbo trainer or an exercise bike. It’s a fantastic way to stay in shape and can be done at an exercise facility such as a gym or spin studio or at home on your own indoor bike

With the rise of bikes such as the Peloton, they have become increasingly popular, and we are seeing more and more people get their fitness fix on the bike while at home. What a lot of people don’t know is indoor cycling comes with a huge amount of value.

Most cyclists assume that outdoors is the most efficient. Still, indoor cycling can be utilized in many ways to help you train better and get more out of a workout in much less time. Cycling indoors gives much more structure and comes with a lot less distraction.

Outdoor Cycling Explained

Surprisingly in modern times there’s a lot of people cycling indoors before they take to an outdoor bike. Outdoor cycling is a lot of fun, as well as exploring local roads and trails and socializing in cycling groups.

As far as training goes, you are much more distracted and forced air while riding, and it would be rude to not stop for a coffee or two along the way. You also get to pick from all different kinds of bikes. If you wanted to, it could be used as a holiday, cycle touring or bikepacking.

Cycling outdoors has always been very popular, but with many people wanting to get away from cars and traffic and also people who are looking to save money from car fuel and expensive repair bills.

Indoor vs Outdoor Cycling

To fully understand the difference between indoor and outdoor cycling and the effects it has on the body, it’s important to know the differences. Here’s what you are going to find.


The first thing to mention is feel. Cycling indoors and cycling outdoors are two very different things. For many, cycling indoors feels much harder and comes across as more restrictive. This often comes down to the still position and the fact you never stop pedaling. 

Cycling outdoors not only offers a sense of freedom from being outside, but it is much much less restrictive on the body, and you are able to really easily move around the bike, leaning and turning into corners. 

Workout Structure

When it comes to training indoors, it’s really easy to structure a workout and see it through without complications. You can set yourself cadence workouts, heart rate workouts, and even workouts to power, knowing exactly what to do and when to do it. 

Outdoors, that’s much more difficult. It’s nearly impossible to do a workout on the road or trails, sticking to a certain heart rate or level of intensity. Trying to ride on the trails and stopping at traffic lights makes it too difficult outdoors.

There are some amazing training programs you can use indoors, such as Zwift, Rouvy, and even Peloton, for cycling indoors and helping you train much more efficiently.


When it comes to cycling indoors conditions make a big difference. Being in a room with a small fan and powering into the pedals while getting warm. What is important is indoors, you are in control of the environment and can make it what you want.

When cycling outdoors, although you get the weather, you are force-fed air, and by using the right clothing, it can be easier to stay cool and regulate your own temperature. If it’s miserable outside, you will struggle to train properly.

Muscles Used

Although you might not think it, there’s actually quite a big difference between cycling indoors and outdoors when it comes to the muscles used. Indoors, you tend to apply more to the legs and power heavily into the lower muscles alongside some upper and core. 

Outside, you are using the leg muscles and a lot of the core and the stability muscles to ensure you can stay upright and corner properly. Cycling outdoors is much more dynamic as far as movement goes. 


Indoor cycling is very convenient. You can literally just chuck some clothes on, and if you have a bike at home, get started. You’re not dependent on the weather, and it could be light or dark outside, and that doesn’t matter. 

Cycling outdoors requires a lot of kit. It is weather dependent, and in certain countries, you don’t have the weather all year round for riding. This can make it extra challenging to train and also build a base of fitness


Another big factor is cost. Indoor cycling, I feel, is much cheaper than outdoor cycling. If you were to go for a mid-range bike such as a Bowflex C6 and some basic clothes and equipment, you would spend between $1000 and $1200. This not only will last year after year but gives a great experience.

Although it can be done cheaply, riding outdoors can be quite expensive. For a mid-range bike, you’re looking at $1500, and the clothing for warm and cold weather will be $200 to $400. You will also need to service and change parts often.

After cycling indoors and outdoors for many years, I have found indoor cycling cheaper over a longer period of time. Still, they both can be done on a small budget.

Is Indoor Cycling As Effective As Outdoor Cycling?

Indoor cycling is different from outdoor cycling, and in some ways, it’s more effective. Still, in others, it’s actually much less effective. 

Why Indoor Cycling Is More Effective Than Outdoors

Indoor cycling offers more structure and a better, more controlled environment, and applications such as Zwift can even tailor works just for you. It’s easy to work in the correct zones without distractions or stops at road signs.

 In winter, a lot of cyclists turn to indoor cycling as you do get much more value for the time you spend on the bike, and it means you can really focus on improving and getting strong, not just riding for the sake of riding.

Why Indoor Cycling Is Less Effective Than Outdoors

Although you get great benefits from cycling indoors, you miss out on some characteristics. Firstly, you use the core, arms, back, and stabilization muscles much less. It can be really easy to get used to always just being in one upright position. 

On top of that, you lose the force of air and the bike‘s movement under you, and when indoors, you never work on your handling skills. You also miss out on the social element of group rides, and you become less used to different conditions. 

Which Is Best For You?

The best cycling for you is the one you enjoy most. If you like to ride outdoors and have the weather for it, then outdoors. If you prefer to be inside, then indoor cycling is just great. They are both fantastic ways to get your fitness fix, and you shouldn’t overthink it.

The only exception is if you are looking to quickly improve your fitness to a high level. Then, I recommend doing long sessions outside on the bike and short power sessions inside on the bike.


1. Which burns more Calories?

We cycle a lot of the time because it does burn an amazing amount of calories but what is better for calorie burn, spinning, or cycling outdoors? I personally find that spinning has a much higher calorie burn. You never stop pedaling when spinning, typically people’s heart rate sits much higher, and when in a group you push yourself harder.

2. Which gets me Fitter?

Whichever you pick, providing you are consistent and you train hard enough you will get fitter. Though if you are looking at making good progress quickly then spinning could be a better option. It challenges you more, it offers much more structure than riding outside and the resistance it gives you is endless. If I plan to be race-ready quickly I will do the majority of my training inside.

3. What creates better cycling efficiency?

Riding outdoors typically for longer durations in my opinion builds cycling efficiency better than riding indoors. This is because to build efficiency the intensity has to be much lower and it is about training for longer periods of time at lighter effort levels. This is known for many as base miles and you will see pros spend the majority of their time not working very hard. 

4. What is easier?

I think personally cycling outdoors is easier. The main reason is that the airflow is much better. When you are in an indoor cycling studio you are fighting for air and it doesn’t circulate well, this not only means it’s harder to get more oxygen in but also your body has to work harder to keep itself cool. Outdoors you have air pushed into your system and are constantly cooled by it as well, meaning your body can focus on cycling and not staying cool.

5. Which is cheaper?

I personally think riding indoors is cheaper. It may cost a few hundred dollars for a bike and a subscription to an app, or you might take the route of a gym membership but compared to outdoors I believe it is cheaper. In outdoor riding, you need more equipment, and the maintenance costs much more. Things like tires, clothing, inner tubes, and servicing, all add up and, personally, I think being an outdoor cyclist isn’t the cheapest way to get fit.

Robbie Ferri CPT

Robbie from “Riding with Robbie” is a Personal Trainer living in in Norfolk, UK. He has bikepacked all over the World, and also raced ultra distance at a top-level. He has worked closely with industry leaders such as Shimano.

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